tablet

REVIEW: THE DELL VENUE PRO 8 TABLET

After the Kindle HDX washed out, I had a hole where a small, portable web-capable device should be. With hospitalization soon, I wanted to be able to do small footprint basic computing. My laptop is great, but too big and heavy for a hospital bed. I’ve been using the Dell Venue Pro 8 every day […]

DELL VENUE PRO 8 TABLET – UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL

Not long ago, I chronicled my adventure with Dell Customer Disservice and Dell Technical nonSupport. A few days later, I wrote ASK A SIMPLE QUESTION, GET A SIMPLE — WRONG — ANSWER. The following day, my Dell Venue Pro 8 tablet arrived. Such a little package. Well, what did I expect? It’s just a wee bit bigger than a Kindle.

dell-venue-8-pro

Why Do I Always Have Be the Fixer?

Yesterday was computer fixing day. My son used to be a professional computer repair guy but has apparently forgotten everything he ever knew. He handed me his laptop. Seven hours later, it was running pretty well, though it could use a full reload of the OS which I’m not going to do. Still, I think it’s at least a working computer.

With all the jokes they make about Old People and computers, how come I’m the ONLY one in this 3-generation household who understands how computers work? How come, huh? I wanted to beat the kid (all 6’4″ 240 lbs of nearly bald 44-year-old kid) to death with that 15″ laptop. I’m definitely getting old and cranky.

Back to the Review (Already In Progress)

The Dell Venue Pro 8 is well-built. It has a lovely, solid, silky feel. It easily connected to the Kindle application and Netflix. Without a hiccup. Chrome, on the other hand, would not work and I gave up. Some battles aren’t worth the effort. The (free) copy of MS Office installed without a hitch too. Eventually I found a variety of other useful applications, a reasonable version of Solitaire, a clock, calendar, alarm and stopwatch and installed them too. I uninstalled a few things I didn’t have any use for. Installation and uninstallation is really easy. And fast.

The tablet wasn’t working quite as it should. It dropped its Internet connection each time it went to sleep and it wasn’t sensitive enough to touch.

This meant – OMG!!!! – another call to Dell’s tech support. I didn’t hesitate. I have learned that thinking about it will make the inevitably horrible experience even worse. Moreover, I have no intention of keeping the tablet if it isn’t going to work properly.

The problems weren’t big ones, but they were annoying. Mostly I like the tablet. Good speakers, exceptional graphics. Watched “Jack Reacher” on Netflix. Not bad. The sound isn’t as loud as I might like, but the quality is excellent and it has an earphone jack. The cameras (1 front, 1 back) work pretty well, even in low light. I haven’t tried the video camera or the voice recorder yet. Overall, it’s got a lot of bells and whistles I might really use (be still my heart).

Tech Support Again (Oy)

I am not going to go into details. Suffice to say, I was on the phone with this doofus for 4-1/2 hours. When the conversation started I had 2 relatively minor issues. After he fixed things (reinstalling the drivers, etc.), the tablet was dead. Unresponsive. He said he wanted to try one more thing. It was getting late, past dinner time and I said, “No, I’ve had enough. Either you put me on with someone who actually knows what needs to be done and can speak English well enough for us to understand each other (this guy not only didn’t speak English, he didn’t understand it either) or I swear I will return this tablet to Dell, explain that YOU are the reason why and never, ever buy anything from Dell again in this lifetime.” Which, if I didn’t get my blood pressure under control, might not be very long.

He threw in the towel and passed me to a Supervisor. Who spoke and understood English. And knew how to get the tablet up and running.

The secret of getting a dead Windows 8 computer up and running is 3 successive cold reboots. Third time, it goes into “self-repair and diagnostic mode” — the new version of Safe Mode.  Which doesn’t require a password. So finally, I was able to adjust the setting after which it began to connect automatically to WiFi. Problem solved.

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Next, I insisted I make the table NOT password protected. Which is when I discovered Windows 8.1 is still — as all Windows have been — a hack over DOS. It was comforting in a weird way. There was the old DOS prompt in its little black window, like an old friend. It meant I was not really learning a new OS. I was just learning to work around the changed GUI. I felt better.

Eliminating Password Protection

For anyone who wants to get rid of password protection in Windows 8.1, here’s how to do it:

(1) Use Search to find the command prompt. Start typing “Command” and before you hit the second “m,” you’ll see command prompt as a clickable link. Click it.

(2) Type: control userpasswords2

(3) Up comes a little window, a little window you’ve seen on every version of Windows since 3.1.

(4) UNCHECK “require all users to have a password,” then enter your password as requested. Exit all the way out and reboot. That should do it. Sometimes you have to do it twice.

Win 8.1 has the identical sub-structure as every version of Windows. Control panel, menus, SysConfig, Uninstall. It’s all there, buried a level deeper under a new — pointless and unattractive — user interface. You can change the interface using “Personalize” and make it less ugly.

My over all opinion of Windows 8.1 remains unchanged. It is not an improvement over 7. If anything, it’s a step backward. It requires significant relearning without offering any noticeable advantage to users. After you get the hang of it, it’s not hard to work with, but it’s unnecessary and adds an unfamiliar layer to what ought to be simple.

Summary

What I like:

  • Great graphics
  • Excellent sound
  • Surprisingly good camera and video
  • Useful apps that work and most of them are free
  • Feels nice to the touch with a fine build quality
  • Good battery life.

What I don’t like:

  • The cord is much too short. Really, would it have broken the bank to add a foot and make it reach my desk from the electrical outlet? This is a serious inconvenience, not a quibble
  • Horrible documentation. I’ve seen the PDF and it isn’t much more informative than the leaflet. It’s not that Win 8 is difficult. The documentation is totally inadequate
  • I don’t like Windows 8.1. Now that I can use it, it’s a lot of flash and dash. It isn’t an improvement over Windows 7 — quite the opposite. Sorry dudes. I still don’t understand why you took a good OS (Win 7) and made it harder to use
  • The graphical Interface is neither tablet or user-friendly. It doesn’t feel integrated or smooth. More like a bunch of pieces stuck together without a cohesive concept.

Why tablets can’t replace computers. And why they shouldn’t.

I keep reading articles telling me that tablets will replace laptops and desktops. Every time I read one of these articles, I want to reach through my 24-inch super high-definition monitor, grab the author by the throat and shake him or her until his/her eyes roll back in his/her head.

I don’t have anything against portable devices. I have a smart phone. I have a tablet. I have a netbook. I have a medium-size (but very powerful) laptop and a big desktop with a super monitor. Each of these devices has its own place in my world.

The difference between me and the people who write articles suggesting small portable devices — Smartphones, iPads, android tablets, or Chromebooks — are going to replace desktops and laptops is twofold. The reviewers don’t seem to do any real work and they think whatever is their favorite device should be what all of us use for everything.

Not only do they not do any work, they apparently don’t even have hobbies.

My life includes work.

Have any of these the people extolling mini devices as the total computer experience ever designed a book? Made a movie? Edited RAW? Converted a book to a PDF? Or for that matter, have they tried playing Castleville on a tablet? It’s close to impossible. If it doesn’t crash or refuse to run, you still can’t do it because the screen is too small.

Do you take pictures? If you are a snapshooter and your idea of serious photography are  pictures in which you can’t see who is who because they too dark and blurry, a tablet or smartphone may do the job. But even if you do nothing with your photos … not even cropping … I can’t figure out how you can even download pictures without a computer. How can you decide which ones you like? Even if I accept blurry, poorly framed snapshots as photographs … how can you see anything at all on a little tiny screen?

Virtual keyboards are good for virtual typing …

I just read an article explaining how you can type perfectly fine on the iPad’s virtual keypad. Having tried it on other peoples’ iPads, not to mention my own android-based table, no, you can’t. With two fingers, sort of …  but not if you are a touch typist and believe it or not, some of us are.

There are so many issues involved that I can’t even begin to list them all, so I’ll start with the most obvious ones.

You need memory and a hard drive to run embedded applications.

You can’t run Photoshop on a tablet. Any tablet. Or a Chromebook. Or even a Netbook. Or Smartphone. It’s not that it won’t run well; it won’t run at all. It has to be installed and without a hard drive, you can’t install it. Without memory, you can’t run it. If you use a real camera … something beyond a very basic point and shoot or, oh Lord spare me, a telephone … you can’t even download photographs, much less edit them. If you shoot RAW, you might not be able to fit as much as a single photograph on your device.

You can’t edit a 16 X 20 photograph on a 10 inch tablet, much less a telephone.

This is not a matter of opinion. It’s a hard and fast truth. Can’t do it. Can’t see enough of the pictures to know what you are doing. It does not matter whether we are talking about a Chromebook, an android tablet or an iPad. The operating system is irrelevant. The device is physically too small to do the job. Assuming it had a hard drive and sufficient memory (none of them do), you still could not do it. Physical limitations would prevent it. But, if you don’t care what your pictures look like and think anything showing, however fuzzy,  a member of your household is so adorable that blurriness, bad color and creepy backgrounds don’t matter, everything I say here will mean nothing to you. Enjoy your pictures. I beg of you, do not show them to me or worse yet, request my opinion.

Typing with 10 fingers requires a keyboard.

Virtual keyboards are perfect for tapping out a couple of lines in an email. After that, if you know how to type, you will become increasingly frustrated until you are ready to toss your high-priced device through the nearest window. “But wait!” you cry. “I’m in college and need to write papers. I’m a master’s student and I have to turn in a thesis. With footnotes and all that jazz.”

Sorry,  bud. You’ve got a big problem. You can’t do that on your tablet or telephone. I guess you’re just going to have to give up on higher education because you don’t have a computer. No? But didn’t you tell me that you don’t need a real computer, that they are obsolete?

Who needs footnotes? Engineering drawings? Spreadsheets? We don’t need no stinkin’ spreadsheets!

If you’re a budding young filmmaker, good luck trying to edit video on your tablet. Let me know how that works for you.

And about that thesis: footnotes and bibliographies, much less cross references? Really, no problem. Just explain to your advisor that you can’t include references and attributions because your tablet doesn’t support those functions. Surely they will understand. After all, computers are obsolete. Who needs attribution anyhow?

If you’re an architect or engineer? Return to your drawing table and start doing them by hand. I hope you still have those old-fashioned tools and remember how to use them, because you aren’t going to be doing them on your tablet. Need a spreadsheet? Not going to happen. Even if all you are trying to do is track your own household budget, you can’t do it on your tablet or telephone.

It’s a big world with room for many operating systems and devices … you don’t need to dump one to have the other.

My point is simple enough. There is room in our world for many kinds of devices, many types of operating systems. Many of us like having various devices dedicated to particular tasks. I love reading books on my Kindle. I edit on my desktop with the big HD monitor. I use my laptop to play games, write, and work when I don’t what to be stuck in my office.

You love your iPad? Enjoy. Recognize that it is great for what it is. It has limitations, but if you remove the limitations, you also eliminate its advantages. If you make it big enough to edit film or photos, add a hard drive and a keyboard, it stops being small, and portable. By the time you finish adding all that functionality, it’s a laptop. We have them already. Add a bigger monitor? You’ve got a desktop.

You can’t replace everything with one thing  and there’s no reason on earth you should. There appears to be a widespread assumption by manufacturers and marketers that we all do the same stuff and therefore one size fits all, technologically speaking.

It’s not true. What is wrong with supporting more than one operating system? Is Microsoft unable to deal with two operating systems? It had both NT and Windows for decades … you mean now it’s whatever Microsoft wants to sell or nothing? Why?

Why can’t we have both Windows 7 and Windows 8? And Linux? And Macs? Androids and iPads? Smartphones and iPods, iPhones and Blackberries? Why can’t we own a variety of computing devices that run on various operating systems? Who says one device needs to do everything? Is this etched in stone somewhere? Or is it just some marketing guy’s idea and we do whatever we are told like mindless sheep.

For years I owned Macs and PCs until it became too expensive. Then I had to decide what would serve me best … and for a variety of reasons, the answer was PC. It wasn’t a decision made without considerable thought or because I have something against Macs. I just prefer the working environment of a PC for my task-driven world. If I did different kinds of work and the other people with whom I worked used Macs rather than PCs, my decision might well have gone the other way. I am not one of those people who have a cult-like attachment to one operating system versus the other. There are pros and cons for each and we all should make decisions based on what’s important to us. The nearly religious devotion a lot of Mac users have for their computers is scary. It isn’t a religion. It’s a computer.

One size does not fit all, not in technology and not in clothing.

English: A woman cuddling a pile of digital de...

One size fits all in clothing usually means that it will be too big for 40% of the population, too small for another 40%, and it will look crappy on the remaining 20%.

Technologically, one device, one type of device, one operating system will never do the many jobs computers perform for us. We are not alike and thank God for that. Do we want to be all the same? Do we want to enforce a total lack of diversity? Is our goal to eliminate choice? If not, then it’s time to rethink the concept that whatever works for you will automatically work for me or the guy down the street. Enjoy your choices, but recognize that choice is what it is. That you are devoted to your Mac means that your Mac works for you. If you find that your iPad or other tablet is more than sufficient for your computing needs?  Fine. If you feel that doing everything on your telephone suits your lifestyle, you are probably a teenager and you’ll grow out of it.

It’s okay to be different than your neighbor. You do not have to like the same things, do the same things, or need the same things. It’s diversity and our differences that make the world an interesting place. We don’t have to go to the same church, read the same books, believe the same stuff. We don’t have to live in the same environment or own the same appliances. Nor do we need to enjoy the same restaurants or cook the same food. We don’t need to celebrate the same holidays or be the same color.

If everybody would stop trying to force their beliefs and opinions on everyone else, this world would be a better place. Whether it’s the computer operating system you prefer or the political party you vote for, that is your right and privilege and it’s about time everyone stops trying to make other people adhere to their beliefs. It will never happen and all that you will accomplish by trying to coerce others is that they will resent you. The harder you push, the more resistance you will encounter.

Live your life as you prefer. Let others do the same.

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